As rising home prices slow new home construction and demographic shifts push homeownership rates to 50-year lows, the U.S. is increasingly a country of renters and landlords.
Last year, 37 percent of homes sold were acquired by buyers who didn’t live in them, according to tax-assessment data compiled in a new report published by Attom Data Solutions and ClearCapital.com Inc.
That number may include second homes or properties acquired by investors who seek to fix up old homes and resell them at a profit. But it’s also a strong indication that landlords are playing a larger role in the U.S. housing market.
In the years following the foreclosure crisis, Wall Street drove a rise in the share of homes purchased by landlords, as private equity firms bought thousands of cheap homes. In 2012, institutional investors accounted for 7.8 percent of home sales, according to the report.
Rising home prices led big investors to curtail their purchases, and the share of homes acquired by institutional investors fell to 2.9 percent last year. But as Wall Street backed off, smaller investors picked up the slack, aided by tools developed to help big investors find, finance and manage rental properties.
Smaller investors – particularly those who have already paid off their mortgages on the homes they live in – see rental properties as an attractive way to save for retirement.
To some extent, they’re focusing their resources on cheaper markets because the profit margins are better at lower price points, said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at Attom Data Solutions.
In Seattle, where the median home price was $414,000 at the end of last year, the annual share of sales to non-occupiers peaked in 2013, at 23 percent. But in cheaper Dallas, where the median home price was $201,000, the share of homes sold to people who don’t live in them nearly doubled over the last 12 years.
Whether the rise of the rental landlord is a positive development is an open question, said Blomquist. “On one hand, landlords are filling a need that exists because of the low homeownership rates. They may also be crowding out folks that want to be homeowners but can’t compete with investors.”